PANKRATION Pre-Christian form of Greek fighting. Pankration, sometimes spelled pancration, or pancratium or even pankratium, was a combination of earlier forms of boxing and wrestling practiced by the Greeks. Some historians trace its origin to the Indian vairamushti system.
It should be noted, however, that pankration and the Pyrrhic dance, a Greek armed and unarmed war-dance similar to modern karate kata (formal exercises), both antedate Indian statues depicting temple guardians in poses similar to those used in latter-day fighting arts.In 648 BC pankration was introduced to the Greek Olympic Games. A subdivision, boy's pankration, was added in the 2nd century BC, which attests to the popularity of the sport.
The object was, as in boxing, to force an opponent to acknowledge defeat, and to this end almost any means might be applied. Though rules were enforced by officials with a switch or stout rod, a whipping must have been more desirable than being killed, for the rules were often broken. Serious injuries and fatal accidents did occur, but they were rare, rarer probably than in ancient Greek boxing.
Facing one another, much as in the position taken by wrestlers, pankratiasts, as they were called, tried to bring one another violently to the ground by grappling, hitting, kicking, leg-sweeping, choking, or joint-locking.
There was much preliminary sparring. Hands were bare and generally held open, although the clenched fist was used for hitting; feet were also bare. As in Greek boxing, there were no rules against hitting a man when down. More often than not, the contest was decided on the ground, even though, when both fighters were down, hitting was usually ineffective. Biting and gouging were prohibited. Kicking was an essential part of pankration and the stomach area was a common target. Because of this comparatively rare tactic, historians speculate that pankration may have been one of the first, if not the first, total martial art known to mankind. Such throws as the flying mare and various foot-and-leg holds, although too risky for Greek wrestling proper, were freely employed in the pankration. A pankratiast sometimes threw himself on his back to accomplish a throw.
Much later, these techniques became common in judo, called sacrifice throws. Another type of sacrifice throw was the stomach throw. Seizing his opponent by the shoulders or arms, the pankratiast threw himself backwards, simultaneously planting his foot in his opponent's stomach, pulling him over his head. This technique, later a favorite among the Japanese, is depicted in the tombs of Beni-Hassan, giving rise to the belief that it may have been used by the ancient Egyptians. Locks applied to an opponent's limbs or neck were as common in pankration as in jujutsu.
Opportunities for applying them were more frequent when one or both combatants were on the ground, where the struggle was usually decided. The Eleans especially commended strangling as a means of defeating the adversary. The favorite stranglehold of pankratiasts was the "ladder-trick":the attacker jumped on his opponent's back, entwined his legs around the body, and his arms around the neck. A trained pankratiast realized when his opponent had secured an injurious grip and acknowledged defeat at once.
The decisive struggle on the ground was said to be as long and as complicated as it is in modern wrestling. It was to this aspect of pankration that Plato objected, saying it "did not teach men to keep their feet."
In the palaestra, the Greek wrestling school, pankration was given a separate training room, known as the Korykeion, equipped with punching and kicking balls, called korykos, suspended from the ceiling beams. The Greek boxer and the pankratiast used the punch-ball much as the modern boxer does. Another larger ball, used for kicking practice, hung about 2 feet from the floor. Pankration was taught progressively: when a student had thoroughly learned the movements and their combinations, he would be permitted to engage in "loose play," as it is called in fencing.
As would be expected in such a brutal sport, pankration did not escape criticism-principally due to the advent of professionalism. An excess of purses and honors in all Greek sports had precipitated social complications. The "evil" effects of professionalism were considered worst in boxing, wrestling, and pankration. In Greece itself, the problem was increased by the absence of weight classifications, making these events the monopoly of heavyweights.
In 1973 Jim Arvanitis and martial arts journalist Massad Ayoob wrote an account of this little-known, but historically important, discipline. They pointed out that Alexander the Great made friends with Dioxippus, the champion pankratiast who won the Olympic crown by default in 336 B C because no one dared compete against him. Later, as Alexander marched in conquest across the in 326 BC, laid the groundwork for kung-fu in China. Still, due to inadequate evidence, the links in martial arts evolution remain unsubstantiated.